To: Yetinayet From: Adey Subject: Families past and present
I appreciate your kind wishes. As you suggested, I got some eucalyptus leaves (Vicks) and taTenkut. It seems to have worked on my cold but I still have lost my voice completely. Maybe I lost my voice rooting my KNICKS on to their victory against Miami (yes, I am shamelessly plugging my team and rubbing the Miami loss in their faces – they know who they are). Back to our regularly scheduled programming….
As is my evening ritual, I am reading your e-mail while listening to Bob and I think that he captured my response to your e-mail when he said, "Brother you're right, you're right, you're right, you're…. so right". I was actually reading through our e-mails, just to see whether the conversation flowed and I was surprised by how peripheral the discussion of our families (the ones we came from) have been. I think that it is partly due to the fact that we have so much more choice when it comes to the families we will have(or not). You can choose who you marry, if you even marry and whether or not you have children -- you get my drift. With family, either you luck out or you have to suck it up (usually a combination of both).
Although most of the things that you described as being family to you do not apply to me, the intensity and the fondness with which you describe your family and the influence that they have had on your life, resonate. I left Ethiopia as a refugee – not on a plane – but by camel, trucks and sometimes on foot through war zones to Sudan. We moved around considerably before coming to the U.S. Through all those changes – cultural, linguistic, climatic—my family was the only constant. I am eternally gratefully and am remiss not to have mentioned it sooner.
I think that your question regarding whether love can exist outside of two human beings is a bit like the question of whether if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to witness it... My answer is no. What Emily Dickinson was saying about love and what I was trying to say about family is that it is always a part of you – even beyond your last breath.
I agree with you that family is one central institution that defines you. But in as much as we gain from being the son of … or the niece of …, we have come to inherent the sins of the parent as it were. People judge or praise as much for being the son of …or the daughter… as for the actions that we take on our own. Anyway, while I agree that perhaps the breadth of our dialogue has been limited to starting our own families, that does not indicate that we do not appreciate the extended families we come from. Discussing the future is speculation. Discussing your past and present is more revealing. In such a public exchange, I think it is only natural that people do not, as the saying goes, "air your dirty laundry in public." Not that I am suggesting that your laundry is dirty!
In a few hours, I will be off to New York to go to witness to (unreasonably) young people commit to each other for the rest of their lives. I doubt that they have discussed the issue of marriage in all of its facets as much as we have here. I guess in the end it is just a leap of faith…
On the marriage trail…
To: Adey Abeba
Dear Adey Abeba,
As they say, great minds think alike. I am glad you found your cure to be the modern, distilled version of what I had prescribed. Sorry to hear you lost your voice, but it is just re-charging for the expected wedding songs and eleltas at your New York shindig. I am sorry this is the last installment we get to write each other. I suppose a boohoo is called for, but in appropriate Ethiopian fashion I will only admit to a "zeraf!"
When you tell me your childhood experiences, I have to admit that, yes, your are entirely right, I cannot relate to your experiences. So, perhaps it is true that you may have had an even better appreciation of what an immediate family means than someone without a comparable experience.
Part of what being human is this ability to transcend the past and recreate oneself and the environment. To focus on the possible, the not-yet-created, that which only exists as a gleam in the deepest recesses of our minds. And at the same time, to be able to look the past and the here and now in its very real eye and say, "There is something better than you that does not yet exist, but will become so through my will and nothing more." I sense that determination in you. I think also this falls into what I have said earlier, that the forming a family and having children is part of this urge to re-make oneself into the perfection we now believe we know.
I feel this topic can be discussed ad nauseum, but I get this picture of a lady who has had her own children, and is now on the verge of counting her grandkids standing in front of me, wagging her finger and telling me, "LijE, yemn mefelasef new. Satarej anduan agba." Of course, I would be asking her, "Andua? Who is she, do I know her?"
I guess this unabashed attempt to be witty leads to that last element of family that we have not really discussed, but which you alluded to in your very first post. And that is - the clock. Yes, one senses that being a lonely old man is perhaps an infinitely worse position to be in than being a lonely weTeTE goremsa. Since, as you say, the future is speculation, the only evidence we have about it is from those that have traveled this route before. Heed the advice of your elders. Of course, since you seem to have already embarked on this journey, I need not tell you that. It is more for myself.
To close this thoughtful dialog, I have been trying to get some nugget of wisdom to finally impart. I have sat in a meditative cross-legged crouch, eyes closed, back straight, index finger against thumb of each hand and humming my "Ommmmmmm…" Unfortunately, all I get is a picture of a group of people of all ages seating around a table full of foods of all types, and eating and laughing. Perhaps that is sufficient, a vision of a happy family to look forward to.